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Friday, December 12, 2014
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Taking action for a fundamental right
current editorial

On Tuesday, Oct. 8, Bishop David Zubik, the Diocese of Pittsburgh and Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Pittsburgh Inc. filed a lawsuit seeking to protect the fundamental right of religious liberty in the United States.

The lawsuit seeks protection from the mandate issued by the Department of Health and Human Services requiring the church and church-related entities, under the threat of punitive fines, to provide access to abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization services, contraceptives and related counseling by Jan. 1, 2014.

Under the HHS mandate, church-sponsored organizations — everything from hospitals for the sick to soup kitchens that feed the hungry — are required to let the federal government be the final arbiter in determining which Catholic beliefs they can follow and not follow as they carry out our ministries of service to the community, ministries that in many cases have been performed for nearly 170 years here in Pittsburgh.

This lawsuit comes on the heels of the original lawsuit filed against the mandate in 2011. That lawsuit was dismissed based on the government’s promise to address the religious objections to the mandate. But it was dismissed without prejudice, meaning that a new lawsuit could be filed if the government failed to adequately address religious liberty concerns.

In April 2013, the Diocese of Pittsburgh provided extensive public comments to the proposed rule, and provided several suggestions on how our religious freedom rights could be respected by the government. The government chose to ignore those comments, which made this latest legal challenge necessary.

The government has since announced what it has called its “final rules.” At heart, the government’s “final rules” have barely budged since the mandate was first proposed in August 2011 and in some ways are even more insidious. If the HHS mandate remains in place and unchallenged, it seeks to force the church to knuckle-under to the government’s intrusion into its rights, pay massive public fines, or cease providing health insurance to its employees.

Instead of surrendering to those bleak choices, Bishop Zubik, the diocese and Catholic Charities are standing up for the religious freedom of all faith traditions as guaranteed in the Constitution.

The heart of the issue is this: the United States government has decided to divide the Catholic Church into two wings. The first is the “worship” wing, which the government defines as sufficiently religious. This would exempt from the HHS mandate “houses of worship and religious orders.” The second wing is the “charitable and educational services,” which the government assumes the right to define as secular. These charitable and educational organizations would be subject to the HHS mandate.

The church and the Catholic faithful do not happen to provide charitable and educational services as a hobby or a sideshow. The Catholic community provides charitable and educational services because they are Catholic. By excluding Catholic charitable and educational organizations from the category of exempt “religious employers,” the government is creating a false dichotomy between faith and practice of the faith, between faith believed and faith lived. It is defining — limiting — freedom of religion to the freedom to worship behind closed doors on Sunday.

This lawsuit is not aimed at the Affordable Care Act. It is aimed instead at one heavy-handed and ideologically-driven government bureaucratic mandate to impose on the Catholic Church its secular values contrary to and in violation of long-held core beliefs.

This lawsuit defends the free exercise of religion without the interference of government. It asks only that the church be protected from government interference as guaranteed in the Constitution.

The lawsuit is asking for nothing new, for no novel constitutional interpretation. It is asking that religious freedom rights be recognized and respected as they had been prior to Aug. 1, 2011 when the HHS mandate was first promulgated.

The lawsuit is asking that the church not be forced to violate its own sacred beliefs.










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